When I was asked to write this article, the first question that came to mind was: “What problems do people on probation experience?”
When one speaks of a person on probation, they are referring to one who is qualified but whose competency has not been proven. He/she is a person who is serving a probationary or trial period in a job or position they are newly appointed. It can be a teacher, a doctor or even a pastor.
But in reality, these people are not accorded the respect and recognition they deserve, despite being qualified for the positions they have been given. The problem is the subjective systems and people assessing those on probation.
Within any governing or set up principles is the system that control the outcome, a system may have the negative consequences to the person on probation period in that the environment in which the system is established can be a challenge, depending on the individuals’ social background – for instance, pastors.
One cannot turn a blind eye on a fact that in some professions, probation can vary, starting from three months, which can be extended to six, subject to “unsatisfactory performance”. The probation for pastors in some churches is up to two years.
If a pastor is evaluated as “incompetent” during the two years, he cannot be ordained and his probation can be extended by another one or two years, despite holding the genuine pastoral qualifications.
From my pastoral point of view and daily experience, the root cause of the prolongation is the individual’s low self-esteem within the profession, geographical location of the duty station, and other environmental factors that are systematically linked.
Another critical and disturbing aspect probationers receive from their direct supervisors are ill-treatment and disrespect necessarily based on qualification, as well as social, political and economic status. Apart from the direct aspect from people assessing them, there are also other external causes that aid their path to an ineffective completion of their probation period, such as family issues and stress.
The decision of prolongation is sometimes not based according to the set standard like other professions but it is at the whim of another mortal – be it the church council or church senate.
Sometimes, pastors on probation are said to be “not fit enough”, “incompetent” and “not living up to expectations of society”. Words carry meanings – sometimes even latent meanings, and these can have the effect of marginalising and dehumanising those who are on the road to ordination.
Probationers sometimes feel marginalised and dehumanised in institutions. They sometimes struggle to have their voices heard, have right to think, to make decisions and to be consulted.
Probation is a good idea because it makes people prove their worth. The question is what it does to people when it is abused. Does it affirm or diminish their dignity?
This, I think, is where the root of the problem is: when superiors (those in power of assessing probationers) down-look their inferiors.
This can bring us to the conclusion with a quote by Dr David Lewis Beebe, a church historian: “The fact that to be ordained means to be under “orders”. According to this understanding, pastors are not freer than doctors or lawyers to begin their practice, for centuries peer review or certification, as it called, has been the rules in authorising the practice of the three great learned profession – medicine, law and ministry.
The road to ordination of those under probation window is never easy, as it relies on many internal and external factors from nature, as well as intellect within colleagues that the probationer is set to interact with on a daily basis.